The good: Rookie third-round pick Kerby Joseph stepped into a starting role early in the season after veteran safety and team captain Tracy Walker suffered an Achilles injury. Joseph would go on to play in all 17 games (14 starts) and finish with 82 tackles, four interceptions, eight defended passes, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
His four picks tied for the third most in the NFL this season. He forced a turnover in three straight games from Weeks 7-9. The ball skills and ability to be a playmaker were certainly on display for Joseph as a rookie and has coaches excited about his potential moving forward.
After some early inconsistencies and a brief benching, DeShon Elliott finished the year off strong. He finished second on the team with 96 tackles and also chipped in five tackles for loss, an interception and three passes defended. He was one of Detroit's better tacklers on defense. Elliott didn't allow a touchdown in his coverage area all season.
View photos of the Detroit Lions safeties from the 2022 NFL season.
The bad: Walker suffered a torn Achilles tendon early in Detroit's Week 3 loss in Minnesota. He was fresh off signing a new three-year extension in the offseason. His loss was a big one for Detroit's defense. He was the team's leading tackler in 2021 and overall is a versatile player for the defense.
Joseph certainly proved he can be a playmaker in this league with all the takeaways, but he'll have to continue to hone his coverage skills this offseason. He allowed five touchdowns in his coverage this season, per Pro Football Focus statistics, and a couple of those were with him in good coverage but not looking back to make a play on the ball.
Opposing passers had a 114.0 passer rating with eight touchdowns and two interceptions on attempts that traveled at least 21 yards in the air.
Key stat: Only Tennessee (63) and Minnesota (61) allowed more 20-plus yard completions on the year than Detroit's 60. Eight of those went for touchdowns and opponents averaged 30.1 yards per 20-plus completion.
A former receiver turned safety, Joseph was only a starter at Illinois for one season, but he produced five interceptions his senior year and Lions general manager Brad Holmes saw a unique skillset in Joseph's ability to track the football and make plays on the ball. He was productive as a rookie and should only get better the more the game slows down for him and the more he understands how offenses are trying to attack him.
Most improved: Elliott
This is more for how Elliott improved throughout the course of the season than anything else. There were some miscommunication issues and broken coverages Elliott took some flak for at the beginning of the year. He wasn't happy about his early-season benching and used it as motivation. He was a 16-game starter in Baltimore in 2020 and this year had better tackling and tackle for loss numbers.
Free agents: Elliott (unrestricted), C.J. Moore (unrestricted)
It will be an interesting decision for Holmes when it comes to Elliott. Joseph is in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future and Walker is making terrific progress in his Achilles rehab and could be ready to go by the start of next season. Where does that leave Elliott, who is probably looking for some long-term stability at this point in his career.
Moore is one of the better special teams players in the NFL and a pretty easy re-sign if he wants back. He's also a veteran leader in the safety room.
Some of the veteran names that could potentially hit free agency include Jessie Bates (Cincinnati), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (Philadelphia), Jordan Poyer (Buffalo) and Vonn Bell (Cincinnati).
Draft: Given the serious nature of Walker's injury and the fact that Elliott is potentially headed toward free agency, don't be surprised if Holmes looks to bolster the position somewhere in Day 1 or Day 2 of the NFL Draft. Holmes could also be on the lookout for a safety with cover skills to potentially play in the slot and give them some versatility in their nickel package.
Brian Branch out of Alabama is a name that could fit somewhere around Detroit's No. 18 overall selection. Branch can impact a game in so many ways. He had 89 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, seven passes defended, eight pressures, nine run stops and three sacks on the season. He could wear a lot of different hats in a safety-friendly defense like Aaron Glenn's.
Other names to consider would be Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M), Jordan Battle (Alabama), Jammie Robinson (Florida State) and Ji'Ayir Brown (Penn State).
Quotable: "Yeah, that's just who he is," Glenn said late in the season of Joseph's ability to tun the ball over. "That's just who he is, but I would also say, when you're part of a team, and that's not you, but everybody else starts to do it, you'll stick out like a sore thumb. And you might not be a part of that. Either you get with it or you better move out, and guys are really getting with it."